Friday 27 November 2015

Felicity Frost, Immolation and Toast

The PC brigade did for Al Jolson and his associated minstrels back in the day.

Their silence ( the PC brigade not Al Jolson, he had plenty to say) on "Black Friday" speaks volumes, and I wear the boot polish on my face today as a symbol of defiance to their meddling ways

Ok, my mistake,

Here goes with some more despondency and doom,

But first, here's Bob with the weather

Why are we now attributing a name to every low pressure system that sweeps across the Atlantic?
Will banks of fog and frosty mornings receive similar treatment and how far are we from Fred Fog and Felicity Frost? The disneyfication of the countryside in recent decades signalled a disconnect from reality, now we have the disneyfication of meteorology and a similar disconnection from reality.

The UK should be subject to wind rain and cold through the winter months, bands of low pressure sweeping across the Atlantic provide welcome succour to much diminshed aquifers and river systems, so could somebody in the media concerned with weather actually come out and say so, and stop spooking Joe public over a few damp days and a gentle zephyr.

The river is in reasonable condition and after twenty four hours without rain runs clearer than it did in July and August. I don't think I can remember a season with so few fish on the spawning gravels, there is a dearth of sexually mature brown trout in the river for which we have implementation of The National Trout and Grayling Strategy and a plethora of otters to thank. There are many small brown trout in the river, it remains to be seen whether this will still be the case in five years time. Grayling fishing has been ok, with the few anglers that have arrived putting reasonable numbers of fish on the bank on both dry flies and nymphs and we still have sedge hatching in the last knockings of the day.

Trotting on Sunday afternoons has yet to produce any roach to my rod, although a few have been caught to just shy of two pounds by others, and I have had pike to four pound on both the fly, and a wobbled sprat. The weather hasn't turned cold enough for any unusual avian visitors to turn up yet, although a few nights of frost served as a full stop to much flora and fauna that last year is over and time now rejuvenate through sleep tin preparation for next year. Otis put up the first snipe of the winter at the weekend while skirting the common before bumbling back down the hill into the village. My eye was caught during descent by multiple ziggurat learing through the verdant fringe of the village.

I'm sure they are very nice, and seven figures for five bedrooms replete with sweeping drive and a view of the field will be value to some, but a cuckoo's egg in the nest of a tit sprang quickly to mind.

Well done to the two local purchasers of the "affordable" option.

Freedom for Tooting! come the revolution..etc etc

The River!

but soft, another "R" word


Cheltenham last week and countryside day at the November meeting. It sometimes serves as a bellwether for festival horses a few years hence and can draw quite the crowd. I don't think I've had a duff day at Cheltenham yet. Ok, the ledger is inevitably coloured red at the denouement and sometimes in November it rains (take note TV weathermen and radio presenters) but it is a great atmosphere, and all the more impressive this year for the opening of the new stand and viewing area around the parade ring, which is stunning , user friendly with a top notch sports stadium feel (after Alan Partridge)

The river,

Sorry TV, and the excellent TV series -The Big Fish.

Aired on BBC 2,

and well done BBC for that,

it is hosted by Ben Fogle and Matt Hayes. Anglers were presented with a variety of angling challenges in order to determine all round angling ability. I no longer possess the intensity to fish in that way and am too easily distracted by other things, but well done BBC for putting the show together (on quite a budget judging by the locations) and displaying angling as a positive life skill.

Other TV highlights, in what is always the best time of the year for TV, include The Dancing (a given, and all hail the genius of Winkleman) The Jungle (a given and all hail the genius of Ant & Bee) Catastrophe (a more givens ed) Catastrophe is really good, catch it if you can, and what must be the highest end hour of comedy since Alan Partridge served as warm up for Phoenix Nights (albeit on different channels) just after the turn of the millennium. It takes place on a Tuesday when the final series of The Peep Show is followed by Toast of London ( Bainbridge lite from the Boosh) and the genius that is Mary's lad, Matt Berry (enough geniuses, ed)

Sorry Ed, you can never have enough comedy geniuses, and Matt Berry is one.

The river,

The requirement for a replacement tractor is currently being addressed. The previous implement, whose seat is shaped to my own, and is twenty three years old, is like many a wayward twenty year old, smoking and banging a bit, and is on the cusp of entering agricultural Valhalla. It has done great service and will sit at the right hand of Odin, several seats higher up the salt than Thor. It has served as my own "hammer of the gods" in many situations in the wood and on the bank, and tears will flow when it is cast away burning on to the water to make its way downstream to the Test Valley Valhalla, which with a nod to Hogwarts can only be reached via a magical hatch that leads to an enchanted carrier stream that ends at Asgard, a little known beat on the middle river and its magical hall/fishing hut, where all the river keepers and their equipment that are cast into the river end up.

Reading this bit back, I may have dreamt that last few hundred words, but if there were an Asgard on the middle river it would be full of pole scythes and spectacles, because surveys will confirm that these are the two most popular items that are accidentally flung away into the flow.

There are many trees to attend to on the river bank, and some bends will have quite a different appearance come the spring. A bridge must be attended to and fen must be fired, and then there's the pheasant pen to sort out. We seem to have acquired some more tame ducks, and these must also be housed and then there's the fish, the silt, the bits of bank that are maybe starting to encroach a little, Oh yes and the paperwork, because yes paper crops up increasingly in this line of work, when the chap from CEFAS turns up to inspect records and contingency plans, that for form's sake, must now be written down, because yes, if fish start flashing on the bottom or look a little "gilly" I will resort to reading what I wrote down rather than using my brain to remember what I did the last time such an event occurred. He's a top bloke the CEFAS man, as were the few others who have visited during my time here, and protocol requires that they don't get too chummy during their visits, which is tricky, as bonds are formed over time. They are a beleaguered bunch, who have been subject to significant cuts and do great work in keeping some nasty fish diseases at bay that are rife a few miles away across La Manche.

Last week I had a haircut. It doesn't take long and styles are limited. I used to go to a Turkish chap in Basingstoke who didn't do conversation, but surprised me on my final visit by striking a match without warning and burning off my nasal hair and ear hair. I just sat there in a state of shock, violated,

nay immolated.

I never went back, despite being two stickers away from my free hair cut, the bad dream in which I suffered torture by fire from a mute Ottoman with big scissors proved a clincher.

In recent times I have given myself up to another eccentric (and cheap) coiffeur who likes to open proceeding by swinging his scissors around on his index finger, gunslinger style before asking me how I want my hair (like he can do a range of styles) He's not from this country, and I think I can say with some confidence that I have not had my hair cut by someone from the mother country for some years. Even on the barest of bonces, he is one for a flourish and signs off the briefest period of clipping with a waft. He doesn't do conversation, but sings, in both of my ears, and thankfully my head of hair only gives time for a song and a half of warbling, but as the business of attending to what remains of my fringe approached, he ceased his serenade for conversation, Which began:

"What about this front bit then? there's not a lot there. I don't know what I can do. You know Wayne Rooney had a bit put back in, but that cost thirty five grand, you don't look like no footballer and you ain't got that money no? Ok I'll do what I can for ten pound"

If there is an award for comedy barber, please can I make a nomination

Monday 16 November 2015

Liberty Equality Brotherhood

Thursday 5 November 2015


A brief message from Madam and myself

If you missed the clue in the title of the song, the travel duds (that dress sees me sail through security every time, leatherman an all) should serve as a clue that yes, we're off again

Half term, and so to Firenze.

Not the former Divination teacher who turned into a centaur and saved the day when he carried Harry Potter away from Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest

But Florence

Not the female lead in the Magic Roundabout who hung around with a dog on wheels and a spaced out rabbit (Kids, you may need to look this one up)

But the city of Florence, yes that's it, that's where we went, got back a few days ago, still a bit jetlagged and yes Mr Zebedee it may well be "time for bed"

The City of Florence we shall attend to presently, but first we went to Pisa, to take in the Tower, Duomo and Baptistry . I had visited thirty four years before on a school trip, the Wright brothers had yet to come up with the idea of motorised fixed wing flight and we undertook a two day coach journey to Rome (where stones were thrown at our coach during a transport strike), Florence and Pisa, where we spent half a day running up and down the tower free of charge, unsupervised, with every tier open to the public, safe in the knowledge that the small chain strung between each pillar would prevent any child falling off. We had a picnic on the grass at the bottom, pretty much had the place to ourselves and played football for half an hour with the odd wayward shot bouncing off the Duomo.

It's a little different now.

It would warm the heart of Il Duce to see the number of people undertaking the old salute, for what now passes as the international jape of having your photo taken while pretending to hold the tower up.

We had a go ourselves, and it was a lot of fun, but we may need to work a little on the punch line and possibly pick the right building, although none of the three buildings would bear up to a plumb line, it's just the tower that gets all the wonky plaudits.

After some fabulous pasta in the evening we climbed the sunshine mountain for some shuteye before boarding a two tier train to Firenze,

An hour on a train that hit speeds well over a hundred mile an hour, for the princely sum of eight euros.

Winchester to Waterloo, a similar journey, price £35,

For shame UK Rail Network, For shame!

During my previous visit to Florence I had ignored all that the Medici had put on for us, opting instead to watch a fishing match on the Arno. Our apartment was on the river so I was fairly confident that I could find the old girl's banks. Fifteen minutes later found us on the banks of the Arno, and a further five minutes on found us embedded, deep cover in our apartment just off the end of the Ponte Vecchio.

Fishing first, and I'm sorry Mr Medici you may work a good statue or church but I don't think you appreciated what you had on your hands here.

Prior research on the internet had been undertaken, and on our first night in what the lady who sleeps on my left had earlier described as "one of the most romantic cities she had ever visited", I found myself in a bar at a table piled high with fly boxes and terminal tackle talking fishing with a chap called Oliver.

Sorry Madam, L'amore must wait, there's fish need bothering here.

A life-long angler, Oliver graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English Literature but decided that Fishing was the future. Oliver sounded like my kind of guy and two hours before dawn the next day we met again with an armful of rods, for our morning on the river. I won't go into too many details because I have had to chuck up guff elsewhere, but highlights included:

many Zander caught just upstream from the Ponte Vecchio, sight fishing for wels catfish, fly fishing for wels catfish, the stunning bird life of the Arno,
the interesting plants that line the river,
a twenty two pound common carp on floating crust, the substantial catfish that vied with the carp for the crust, probing the offering with its eight inch long whiskers before the carp sucked the bait in, and an entertaining and knowledgeable host.

I don't normally do commerce or adverts but if you wish to find out more about fly fishing in the centre of Florence please visit

that's folks

Fishing done, and suitably showered, I had points to make up in the L'amore stakes, so it was off up to Piazza Michaelangelo on the other side of the river for liquid refreshment and a view of the city, and then on to the Uffizi and the parade of todgers that is the upstairs gallery with its many naked statues.

Vassari corridor next. Built by the Medici, in order that they could move between palaces without mixing with the masses,
it is undoubtedly a corridor, but now serves as an extension of the Uffizi art gallery. Mostly renaissance but also an extensive collection of self portraits. Linking Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river Vassari's corridor, was built for a wedding in a matter of months,
it passes through the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio, where Il Duce put in a picture window to give Hitler a better view when he popped in one afternoon, around a tower, whose occupiers wouldn't allow the Medici to knock it down for a straighter corridor (and well done for that by the way, these Medici's had some side!)
through a church (see previous note about Medici having some side)

and out into the spectacular Bobili gardens of Palazzo Pitti, a lumpen pile of bricks if ever I saw one..

At which point we'll break off.

The new Pottery programme is on in the next room and I'm sorry but they've lifted more than a few lines from Finbarr Saunders and his double entendres,

Bake Off do the same now and again, all that's missing is a Phnaar, Phnaar, Titter, Titter,

The Duomo next day, a building so big it is impossible to do it justice with a camera from the ground. So up the Campenile we went, the third floor in Debenhams gives me the willies, but wracked with guilt after my happy time fishing, I ascended the stairs. I'd been lured up a similar tower in Bologna while three parts foxed on Prosecco in search of the loo, but this was mid morning with only coffee and pastry onboard.

It's a narrow staircase up the campenile, which is used to both ascend and descend, because it's very old and they were all little fellas back in the day. Four floors up we were met by Chuck or possibly Jan, who was very wide and very tall, and acted as a rod would to a drain, as we were swept out into the street as Chuck/Jan made his descent.

At Thorpe Park little guys aren't allowed on the big rides, there's a line drawn as a guide to minimum height, it's not discriminatory it's for safety. At the base of the campanile, and other such dangerous towers there should be a door that you have to walk through without touching the sides before you are allowed to ascend...It's just a thought.

The Duomo is enormous, and I'll say it again, too big to photograph effectively from the ground. Inside is cavernous if a little underwhelming as much of the decor, including all of Donatello's and Michaelangelo's, handiwork has been moved to the museum at the edge of the square.

There were shops, of course, and we seem to have come home with an awful lot of leather.
The central part of the city is an outdoor gallery of sculpture, some original, some copies, some to impress, some to strike fear. In the street behind our apartment there was a more modern piece to mark the spot where the mafia blew up a Fiat full of explosives in the early 1990's, killing six, injuring forty eight and busting up the Uffizi in retribution for privileges being removed from some of their incarcerated contemporaries.

I don't mean to let daylight in upon magic, but I think we came across a future episode of Dr Who being filmed. Possibly a sequel to the one where statues creep up on their victims, there looked to be somebody dressed like a cyberman, although I could be wrong as we were in a particularly fashionable quarter where all dress sense was in danger of being lost.

There are some stunning buildings, and all draw a crowd, plus a maze of back streets in which I frequently lost all sense of direction, that or someone was moving the Duomo,

but as ever in Italy the provender on offer is always a highlight.

I can confirm that I like Chianti, and Madam has a taste for mid range Prosecco. The best Pizza in town was taken at an establishment that offered just six different types. Cutlery and cups were all plastic, tables were shared and people from many nations joined us at our table, because yes, we eat slowly on holiday.
The couple from California were a blast, although the stressed out Scandinavian who was fourth onto our table that seemed to operate as the house sin bin, and who took this photo, had spent the whole day in a dark room at his hotel, oblivious to all that the Medici had put on for us (hang on, haven't I heard that before somewhere) served as a signal to draw the night to a close, which I feel is betrayed in our eyes, although his wife was great fun.

Oliver had provided us with a few Trattoria to visit, all on the other side of the river from the Duomo, where prices are generally 20 euro cheaper on a meal for two, and we ate at our favourite three nights during our stay, I'll not list what we had here but we didn't have a duff meal all week.

Our flight home was delayed by four hours due to fog, I only fell out with two people at the airport, both younger than me who had become frustrated at my addled bumblings. Several flights were cancelled, and in a Brian Hanrahabn moment, ours was the last out of Pisa and the last into Gatwick.

It's a magnificent city that no longer holds fishing matches, and we plan to return.

Amo Firenze

Not you Centaur